Canned Tomato Comparison
I am constantly fighting the battle of being frugal but not cheap. I have the impulse to not spend my money, and if forced to, purchase the cheapest option.
Often times, that is okay. In the case of toilet paper, it is not (the Omnivore taught me that lesson. Thanks, hon!).
I am growing and learning how to spend money more freely and recognizing when buying the most expensive option is actually better.
Canned tomatoes are something that I use a lot of. Give me an onion, a can of tomatoes, and my spice cabinet and I’ll give you 7 different dinners for each night of the week.
By the way, have you ever seen the canned tomato options at your nearest supermarket? Who knew that something seemingly so basic could come in so many incarnations. Naturally, I have the tendency to buy the cheapest variant. And for so long, I never gave it two thoughts. When was I ever actually even eating the tomatoes without gussying them up with spices, vegetable additions, and the like? Nearly never. So did the quality of the tomatoes matter?
The only way I could continue to sleep at night once my mind was latched to this query was to embark upon a comparison of my own. I aimed to purchase Muir Glen tomatoes, organic tomatoes, and generic tomatoes. The biggest supermarket around, however, did not stock Muir Glen. I settled on the three brands you see above.
They were priced as follows
$3.29 for the Pomi- the box contained nearly twice the content of the cans, so let’s go with $1.64.
$1.39 for the organic Publix tomatoes
$0.60 for the generic non-organic tomatoes
I aimed to make a simple tomato sauce to be served over whole wheat pasta to test the character of each tomato type. Each brand of tomatoes was spiced in the same exact way: 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 cup of onions, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp dried basil per 15 oz of canned tomatoes. I add 1/4 t of salt to the Pomi tomatoes because it was advertised as “salt-free” while the other brands were not.
As you can see from the picture, the results are all visually similar. The generic, non-organic tomatoes were packaged in a larger dice than the other two types.
Using leftover whole wheat pasta I created a pasta crust as a vehicle for the sauce. I combined 1 egg, 3 T Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup milk, and 6 oz cooked, chopped pasta. I spread this mixture into greased baking dishes and baked the noodles for about 20 minutes. I then added the sauce and baked again for 10 additional minutes.
I cut each portion in half and the Omnivore and I settled in for a taste test. I knew the identities of each sauce while the Omnivore did not.
Here are the results:
Pomi: deeper flavor, tastes like it has been cooked longer
Organic Tomatoes: sweeter, most tomatoe-y, most acidic
Generic tomatoes: brightest, sharpest, taste most like fresh
In the end, the Omnivore declared the generic tomatoes his winner while I preferred the organic canned tomatoes. He also mentioned that no sauce was remarkable enough to declare a huge difference. I guess it was a draw.
As the primary cook in the house, I can see myself leaning towards one or another variety depending on the meal I am making.
If I need a deeply flavored sauce with little cooking time, I’d go for the Pomi.
If cooking with red wine or beef, I’d also go for the Pomi. The deep flavors seem like it would pair well those ingredients.
For other cooking applications, I’d prefer the Organic tomatoes.
If making a fresh salsa or the lightly cooked sauce using canned tomatoes, I’d use the generic, which seem to be least cooked in the canned state and most brightly and sharply flavored.
But, if no one can really identify a striking difference (as the Omnivore and I couldn’t), I’d probably rely on the cheapest most frugal option.